What does it take to compete at the very highest level of professional cycling? How much should a pro cyclist be able to bench press? And what do you do when an unknown local rider keeps snatching your KOMs?
It’s not every day you get the chance to sit down with one of the top athletes in pro cycling to pick his brain about the tricks of his trade. But that’s just what we had the good fortune to do when Laurens ten Dam stopped by Strava headquarters to sit down for a chat. With the help of Strava athletes who submitted their questions via Facebook and Twitter, we sought to arrive at a more complete understanding of the art and craft of pro cycling. Here’s what we found out.
I never hear of any pros talk about lifting. Do you ever do leg work at the gym? Or does all the strength come simply from cycling?
In my small basement at home I have some Rocky Balboa posters and some low key music, and I try to be rocky for an hour. Actually, in Holland in the winter there can be shitty weather, so when I wake up in the morning I will ride if it is good weather. I go mountain biking then. And if there is really bad weather, I just go down to the gym. I also use Zwift sometimes. Zwift and weights is my basement program. I squat maximum one hundred and twenty pounds, the weightlifters won’t be impressed.
What lifts do you do?
I do squats, some step ups and some leg pulls. I also do some push-ups and some core. Basically that’s it. I don’t have a leg press at home so I don’t ever do that.
How many kilos do you think a pro cyclist should be able to curl? 55?
I am just happy I can do 5 push-ups.
Can you do a pull up?
No, I don’t think so.
You mentioned riding with people who are a lot more junior and pointing out things. A generation ago there was a well defined pecking order in the peloton, but many riders say that’s not the case anymore. In all your years of cycling, how much has that changed?
Yeah, it has changed. I remember when I got into the pro peloton, I would go away from certain people because I didn’t want to make them crash. You know I mentioned Feire and Armstrong, they were people who you did not want to make crash. And now I think they just jump into every hole they find. Yeah, that’s changed. Maybe that’s good. Sometimes it’s annoying, you have to say “Hey, maybe take it a bit easy, it’s 50k to go, if it’s 2k to go that’s ok but, it’s 50k to go, don’t take too many risks.” Because also, you see in the peloton there is a lot more crashing recently. That is the worst part of cycling of course.
Something that is harder to see as a spectator is the contact, but the cameras mounted on the bikes have started to show some of that. Can you talk about how much contact does happen in the last 5k of a race?
I think when you are a sprinter it is crazy, I don’t like it. But there is quite a bit of contact. I think it has gotten out of hand, they should fine them or something like that. There is quite an amount of contact, and for the sprinters that is their profession. That is what I stay away from the sprints. My job is to suffer uphill and sometimes take risks on descents. everybody has their own thing.
You’re not a sprinter, obviously. But what’s it like being behind all of that?
I am always on my brakes. Listening to hear if there are crashes. I am always on my brakes and things like that. I am really focused on not crashing, especially in the tour with all of the spectators and cameras in the peloton. With so many people it is really crazy. Everybody wants to be at the front to not lose seconds. If all of the GC riders stay together in the last half of the peloton, it would be much safer. But then there is one who is in the front, so then the others have to be there too to not lose seconds.
Are there certain riders who have a reputation for causing crashes?
Yeah, Froome because he is always looking down. Schleck too. Some people never crash.
How much thought have you put into what you do after you retire?
No idea actually. Basically, my last year I want to do U.S. domestic and then and then see if we want to go back to Holland or stay. I’d like to do a gran fondo with people or maybe some director stuff with a smaller team for smaller races. I don’t know, we’ll see. I want to be involved with cycling, that’s for sure. Here and there I think, you know.
Within the peloton, who is an established guy who would say “Hey you are taking too many risks!”
Somebody like me would do that. Also, Cancellara would do that.
When would you talk to them?
When the pace goes easy, you go next to them and say “Hey man, next time warn each other. I only have to do this for two more years, but you have to do it for ten more years. Better to make it safe for everybody, because otherwise you won’t make it for ten more years.” That’s how you talk to them.
What’s the hardest part about being a professional cyclist?
The pressure, dealing with the pressure. From yourself, the team, the press, supporters. Sometimes it can get too much. Training, it’s how you started as a kid. You like to ride your bike, and I like to train. It’s not the hardest part, its the pressure that gets so hard when you get better. Last year you get top ten in the Tour de France and this year people expect the same and you expect the same. You are at the end of your contract and you need a new contract and then you break a few ribs, and then you come back too soon because you think the sooner the better. Sometimes you end up grumpy at home. And the kids at home don’t deserve a daddy who is grumpy because he broke some ribs and wants to do well in the Tour de France. They deserve a happy daddy. That is what you have to keep in mind, always.
You’ve headed up to Tahoe after the Tour of California the past two years. There’s a local who holds a lot of the KOMs and you’ve been taking them down. What’s the story behind that?
Yeah, there is this road up to Sugar Bowl called Donner Pass. He had the official Donner Pass KOM. Last year before the Tour of California, the Cannondale team had their team camp there. They all sneakily tried to steal the KOM from me. Last year I took the KOM by one second from this mysterious local guy. Before I was not that fast at altitude. This year I took the KOM by seventeen seconds. I went full up and was so tired that I went to Sugar Bowl and sat in front of an espresso shop trying to find the courage to roll down and ride for another two hours. It was like the feeling of a mountain top finish. My bike mechanic who was taking care of me up in Tahoe, Paco, waited by the computer all day for me to upload. He waited to see thirteen minutes forty seconds. I will remember that number. When I was in the shower my Garmin uploaded automatically. When I got out I already had a message from Paco, thirteen minutes and forty seconds! About that KOM, Peter Stetina is also living there, over on the west shore. He is now recovering from a bad crash over at Pais Vasco, he broke his leg and everything, but he is still threatening me to steal my KOM!
Photos by Jered and Ashley Gruber and element.ly.
Donner Pass KOM update: 17 year old Adrien Costa has taken down LTD’s KOM by 3 seconds!